S&H Concert review

PROM 72 & PROM 73: Verdi's Requiem & Last Night of the Proms, RAH, 14/15 September 2001 (MB)


The last two concerts of the 2001 Prom season were appropriately sombre in mood and the performances were duly affected by what can only be described as an insurmountable air of tragedy for which music seemed inadequate compensation. If ever a performance of Verdi's Requiem needed to be truly meaningful and truly uplifting this was the time for one.

Rarely has the work been scheduled when the circumstances demand it yet the performance was dull, dreary and barren. It was weighed down by extraordinarily slow tempi - the normally glorious sonorities suffocated by a conductor (Daniele Gatti) who dragged out the opening Requiem Aeternum to imponderable lengths (de Sabata's EMI recording seemed fleet by comparison). The opening of the Dies Irae seemed to fire some passion - and the acoustics wonderfully rounded out the sense of terror but it was short lived as the rest of the performance degenerated into a maudlin, very routine run-through as if the fire had immediately been smothered. It was simply inadequate. The Royal Philharmonic strings were suitably dark toned but the brass frantically clutched at notes. All the soloists were a disappointment - all often flat but none worse than the soprano Fiorenza Cedolins who wobbled nervously and failed to hit her top B flat in the Libera Me. I struggled to hear whether she made the top C's so overwhelming were the excellent chorus.

The Last Night, with a controversially changed second half, fared better - but not much. I had already heard rumours that the change of programme and the prominence of US and British flags on the stage had led the BBC SO to near rebellion over what they termed the politicising of a musical event. Whether true or not, they seemed little affected by it on the night offering better playing they have seemed capable of summoning throughout this season's concerts. Although the jingoism which normally celebrates a Last Night was missing the programme did little to support the arguments of those who would like the Last Night changed forever. The dull programming (although both the Finzi and the Canteloube were already scheduled) would have made this an under par Last Night in the best of circumstances. The grotesque Bach/Respighi, meanwhile, simply hovered on the indecent.

It was in fact the second half which fared best - a truly chilling account of Barber's Adagio which was both beautifully and movingly played and a performance of the choral finale of Beethoven's Ninth which whilst starting poorly ended with true panache. It was not epoch making, but better than expected. Perhaps the programming of Jerusalem - which talks about England's green and pleasant land - was not the most appropriate way to end this Prom. Even the densest of souls would have been aware of the irony in these lines given that much of Manhatten now lies under a nefarious cloud of dust and rubble. But with some members of the audience evidently robust in their desire to uphold tradition -appearing more like sabre rattlers - it is perhaps too much to expect the irony to have hit home.

Leonard Slatkin was a lone noble voice on a night that would have been better cancelled. A lone voice singing Land of Hope and Glory at the close of the concert from the organ loft merely confirmed this to be the case.

Marc Bridle

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